Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Get on with it you tokens of austerity

What has come of this land? We were promised the women’s reservation bill, weeding out of corruption and all round development. And all of a sudden we are faced with the austerity drive. I even had to check it up to make sure that I had the meaning correct. The Cambridge online dictionary puts it such, “the condition or policy of living without things that are not necessary and without comfort, with limited money or goods, or a practice, habit or experience that is typical of this.” It is another thing that I am convinced that what is being practiced now by some ministers in the UPA government in India are far from austerity. But even if we were to say that it is, one would have to examine the need for such austerity in India.

What then is the background of this austerity drive? The recession of course! Companies are falling, shares lie flat (although the trend has been reversed to an extent and India has not collapsed like other countries), jobs are being lost and real estate is not seeing a bubble burst but a bubble being sucked in to it’s place.

But why austerity in India? Tokenism would be a nice way to put it. We put offerings to show our love and respect to God, a whole nation screams in excitement when Sachin bends his knees after a boundary, a whole bus load of people go to see off someone at the railway station or airport. So many, that the majority of people are not travelers but revelers. Oh yes the excitement and the passion is definitely there but so is the tokenism. We all want to show something to someone.

I wonder whether the present austerity drive is a part of this show. A token which will not make much of a difference to the lives of millions of people in this country! Rahul Gandhi may be doing it in all honesty (who knows!) but the security risk he thus poses to himself and to others in the process is another matter all together. How is this going to be sustained in a country like India where ordinary passengers do not themselves travel safely?

To say that the recession woke us up to austerity is a spat on the face to the Indians we don’t get to see on television screens and in heated debates. In a country like India which ranks 88th among 159 countries in the corruption index, what is austerity going to do? In a place where dalits are still beaten up and denied their rights does it matter who travels by what? In a culture where women are looked down upon and kept away who cares which one is more austere than the other? So pull up your socks mates and save the tokenism, if that’s what you are up to. If not, keep it going as though it’s a way of life and get creative. There’s a lot to do for the people of this country!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reading the swine flu the Shakespeare-ian way

Deaths in India usually go unreported unless they are high profile or large in number. In a country of huge numeric proportions one cannot keep up with the loss of life. Which may also be why politicians and religious leaders often say, “Only five or ten died.” Unless the loss is closer to home and of a relative or friend, most of the time the Indian public also follows similar patterns. The swine flu or the H1 N1 virus has got media coverage not because of the numbers but because of the panic it has created in the minds of the people. The panic felt within the media has then been transported on to the audience as well. It is but natural that these instances bring us closer to the life we live and the fragility it reflects.

The Christian churches in Kerala and India have for several centuries advocated having a clean soul and a clean heart. The indoctrination makes us pray for a clean soul and we even go to the extent of asking God to wipe our heart clean. In all this cleaning up we forget the lessons of personal cleanliness that we learnt in school, and the importance of washing our hands.

The swine flu precautions that one gets to read on the internet and in other forums are very clear in what they say, “Wash your hands with soap and water.” And yet we are washing our souls and forgetting the basics! Shakespeare can’t to any stretch of imagination be a favourite of the church. Especially with the gory details of treachery and death that some of his plays bring out! And yet his Macbeth brings an aspect of truth that we cannot deny. Lady Macbeth tries to wash off the blood on her hands which at times in hallucinated engagements is a feeling of guilt of the murders she has initiated. A biblical instance of this is when Pontius Pilate washes his hands off the guilt of handing Jesus over to the mob, who asked for his life.

I remember a student I had who would keep washing his hands very regularly. So much that it ticked off his fellow students and even teachers. This led to the teachers calling for a meeting to discuss his behaviour. At the end of the meeting we decided that we should not read too much into this and let the matter rest. But he has definitely risen from the ashes. Post swine flu he is the only sensible guy around. Atleast he minimizes his risk of contracting or spreading the flu! These are also times when religions have to introspect to understand the importance of our actions. The need of the hour is to be clean, inside and outside.